BLOOMINGTON — Illinois courtrooms could become classrooms for the public as cameras make their way into legal proceedings, the president of the Illinois Bar Association said Tuesday.

“I think this gives us an opportunity to open up justice to the public. Courtrooms by their nature are public,” said John Locallo. The ISBA leader spoke with The Pantagraph after the McLean County Bar Association’s monthly meeting in Bloomington.

The lawyers’ organization supports a pilot program announced in January by Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride to allow news media cameras in trial courtrooms. Illinois appellate courts have allowed cameras since 1984.

Thirty-six other states allow cameras inside the courtroom.

Bringing witness testimony and other elements of a trial to the public visually in addition to the written version of events will help clarify how the justice system operates beyond what viewers get from TV dramas, said Locallo.

And high-profile court cases like the O.J. Simpson trial that keep audiences riveted provide lawyers and judges “with a good example of what not to do in front of a camera,” said Locallo.

A defendant’s right to a fair trial can be protected under the Supreme Court rules for still and video camera recordings of proceedings, said Locallo. Certain hearings such as juvenile, child custody and divorce cases may not be recorded, he said.

“The trial judge will decide if he wants cameras in the courtroom for a particular trial. That ruling is final because the judge is the person who has control of the courtroom,” said the ISBA president.

The 11th Judicial Circuit, which includes McLean, Logan, Woodford, Ford and Livingston counties, has not requested permission to participate in the pilot program. Chief Judge Beth Robb said the issue is still under consideration.

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